Decatur City Council to vote on whether public comments should be significantly restricted at open meetings
At the next city council meeting on Monday, February 3 at 5:30 PM, the city council will be voting on whether to eliminate the general public’s ability to comment after each agenda item on the council’s agenda (as is current practice), and limit the total amount of time for public comment to 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting. The city is proposing to significantly restrict public comment in order to “make public meetings more efficient and to maintain civility and decorum throughout public meetings.” I am strongly opposed to the restrictions the city is proposing, and view them as an infringement on free speech and a barrier to public participation in city government.
The city provides no evidence that city council meetings are currently inefficient. Furthermore, even if the city wanted to strive toward more “efficient” meetings, it should not be at the expense of a council that no longer makes the best decisions possible for the city. Often, the best input and the greatest expertise comes from our citizens. The city is proposing to restrict it. Furthermore, with a $70 million general fund, the city council on average authorizes $2.9 million in spending of taxpayer money every meeting. Every citizen that wants to should have the opportunity to express their view on how their money is spent regardless of how long the meeting will last.
It is unclear how restricting public comments will maintain “civility and decorum”. The city does not define “civility and decorum”, and thus, it will be viewed as an infringement of free speech. This is second time that the city has proposed significantly reducing the ability of citizens to comment at public meetings. The first attempt took place on September 23, 2019 and it is unclear what lack of civility and decorum precipitated this initial attempt last year to restrict citizen feedback.
I am strongly opposed to restricting public comments at meetings and the restrictions proposed by the city are unnecessary, unjustified, and will be viewed as an infringement on first amendment rights. Less public participation will undoubtedly lead to poorer decision making by the city council at the very time the city faces significant and growing challenges. The best solutions often come from the general public, and the city is proposing barriers to the citizens and solutions to our collective problems.
Please consider making your voice heard regarding this issue by attending the next city council meeting and contacting city council members with your views in advance of the meeting. Current practice allows 3 minutes per citizen for public comment near the beginning of each meeting as well as before each agenda item is voted on. An agenda to each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/ Contact information for each council member can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/